She rode out with the No 1 on her back and rode home with her position as the greatest female cyclist underlined, asterisked and writ larger than ever. Marianne Vos bullied her way to a second successive world road-race title here yesterday, able to sit up in the saddle on the home straight and raise her arms in triumph as she coasted over the line to record another stellar triumph.
While there was an inevitability to the finale, this was a tough, gruelling and gripping race – a signature performance for the women's sport in their signature outing of the season – that the Dutchwoman only secured on the final climb of the final lap.
"Vos, Vos, Vos!" screamed the race commentator over the loudspeakers at the finish as she broke away from the Swede Emma Johansson, who had the temerity to replace her at No 1 in the world rankings this season, and Rosella Ratto, the 19-year-old Italian who looks a world champion in the making. Going into the final turn the lead was only five seconds, but once Vos gets clear there is no catching her. The victory margin was 15 seconds.
Lizzie Armitstead's lonely battle to remain in contention after her three British team-mates were dropped soon after the 140km race reached Florence – where the riders embarked on five 16km laps – ended on the penultimate lap. It was a brave if fruitless effort by the Briton, who has had a tough season. She finished 19th, some five minutes adrift.
A year ago it was Vos who beat Armitstead to gold at the Olympic road race in London, and the Dutchwoman's standing as an athlete – there is a convincing case to make that she is the greatest sportswoman of the here and now – was made plain by the reception offered by a home crowd that had gathered in the genuine hope that a strong Italian team could claim the rainbow jersey. Vos received a standing ovation as she crossed the line.
The plaudits quickly followed. "Of all ages and genders," tweeted Mark Cavendish, no mean performer himself, "Marianne Vos is one of the purest bike racers on the planet. So exciting to watch."
As well as her titles on the road, Vos is also a world champion on the track and in cyclo-cross. She has two Olympic gold medals – one on the road, one on the track – and is aiming to win a third on her mountain bike in Rio.
She has now gone one better on the road. Her third title followed an emotional victory on home soil in 2012, a win that ended a run of five successive silvers.
Last year was her golden one, as she triumphed in the Olympics, the worlds and the Giro D'Italia. It sent the 26-year-old looking for a fresh challenge and encouraged her to add mountain biking to her portfolio, which is why Johansson is now ranked No 1 on the road as Vos has limited her appearances this season.
How to stop Vos was the topic that obsessed the peloton from the moment it rolled out of Montecatini Terme. It was the Americans who attacked first on the first climb of the first lap. Then the Italians took over, attacking repeatedly, taking turn after turn.
But nothing rattled Vos. It is a trick of the eye, but she appears to actually pedal less than her rivals, looks to be putting in less effort. At the start of the last lap there she was, tucked behind the leading wheels, a position from where she is rarely beaten.
The three remaining Italians conferred and decided Ratto was the strongest, and should be the one to challenge Vos. But Vos was ready.
"When I saw the sign 'One lap to go' I thought this has to be the moment," she said. And it was.